Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
LOGAN — The disappointment and heartbreak of Saturday's Famous Idaho Potatoes Bowl loss was still fresh after the game, but Utah State head coach Gary Andersen was upbeat.
"It's been the most gratifying season of my career hands-down. I've been in some great games, but I haven't been in them as a head coach," Andersen said following the game. "Yes, you want to win every game, but this crew of kids will be in my mind for the rest of my life. I believe they set a very solid foundation for Utah State football future."
The sunny attitude came from a successful season that nobody involved with Utah State football will soon forget, combined with a bright future for the program.
Following the Aggies first winning season since 1993, Andersen and his staff were already back to work on Monday morning with post-season meetings, eagerly looking forward to getting back in the saddle on January 9th, when preparations for the 2012 season will begin.
All eyes will be on the quarterback position during the spring. True freshman Chuckie Keeton started the season, but was replaced following an injury and a hot streak from Adam Kennedy. Keeton will go into the offseason as the front-runner, but Andersen expects it to be a battle.
"Chuckie has the upper hand, but obviously the distance has closed with what Adam did late in the season," said Andersen. "I expect Chuckie to grow a lot in his first offseason with the team."
Whoever wins the quarterback job in the spring will have to improve the passing game next season. The Aggies finished the season averaging just 181 yards a game in the air and could only compile 96 against Ohio in the Potato Bowl, 33 of which came from wide receiver Stanley Morrison on a trick play early in the game. Wide receiver Matt Austin will seek an extra year of eligibility according to Andersen, but is not guaranteed to be back next season.
"We could have thrown better this season, we need to throw better. Some of it was due to pass protection, but it's an area we have to improve in," said Andersen.
Among the reasons the Aggie passing game will have to improve is a change in the backfield. The Aggies bowl game MVP Michael Smith is set to graduate and Robert Turbin submitted evaluation papers to the NFL last week. If the projections have Turbin going early in the NFL draft it will be tough for the junior to turn down the lifelong dream of playing professional football. The slack will be picked up by returning backs Kerwynn Williams, Robert Marshall and Joe Hill who will be looking to form a new three-headed monster in the backfield and try and recreate a rushing attack that was sixth in the country this season.
On defense the Aggies won't have the services of senior linebacker Bobby Wagner next season. Wagner tied the school record for career tackles at 446 and broke the WAC career record of 443 with his seven tackles in Boise. In Wagner's place Andersen says the Aggies will move freshman Tavaris McMillian to inside linebacker to play alongside Bojay Filimoeatu in the 3-4 alignment. Filmoeatu spent most of his season at defensive end this year.
Andersen and the staff will be hard at work to try and improve upon a season for the ages in the Aggie lore. Spring ball starts in just three short months.
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